Out of the fire and into a legal inferno
King's Cross - the fight for compensation: Victim tells of harrowing years battling against London Transport's lawyers
James Cusick is political correspondent of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday. As an experienced member of the lobby, he has previously worked at The Sunday Times and the BBC. His career as a journalist has been split between print and television, including senior positions as producer with Sir David Frost and at BBC Newsnight. He is also an award-winning golf and travel writer, working for over a decade as the UK contributing editor for one of the USA’s leading golf magazines. He broadcasts regularly for the BBC and CNN. He lives in London.
Wednesday 31 January 1996
Lipsius, a 35-year-old American, who this week won agreed damages of pounds 650,000, recalled lying in hospital with his hands scorched and disfigured and being told by LT they were disputing the cost of his pounds 50 pants. "They saved my legs from being burnt to hell. Yet lawyers wanted to know why the trousers cost so much. I knew then I was going to be dealing with no fairy godmother."
Mr Lipsius faced eight years of legal battling . At one stage LT's lawyers told him they believed he owed them money.
LT's lawyers, Herbert Smith, are one of the world's leading firms. Mr Lipsius believes they were brought in in 1994 to scare him off. "They had one rule .They believed nothing."
Despite surgeons and psychiatric reports detailing his injuries - and his far from stable mental state - an expert physician ordered by Herbert Smith declared there would be no compensation for loss of earnings. "They said I had been fit for work since 1989. Yet I was a complete wreck."
Mr Lipsius, 9 years and 18 operations on from the 1987 disaster, this week became the last of the survivors of the King's Cross inferno to settle. Over the next decade he will need one operation a year. The money will also help pay for the future of his wife and three children. But he is bitter and says he was "thrown to the legal sharks".
Instead of years of argument, expensive expert witness reports, disputes over surgery, his mental health and ability and the stress of not giving in, he says "they should have met each other and said 'Look, his hands are wrecked, they won't get better.' But they didn't."
The ordeal began in 1987 when Mr Lipsius, a guitarist, was waiting for a train on the Victoria Line at King's Cross and was engulfed in a fireball. He used his hands to protect his face and in so doing caused severe damage to the fingers which had earned his living. He survived the fire, but says he has barely survived the stress of his legal battle.
In 1990 LT told him there would be no more payments for physiotherapy. "I was trying my best, but lawyers were treating this like I was eating too much chocolate." Other pettiness is recalled. They questioned the lunch claims for meals in hospitals after physiotherapy. "You begin to think, 'Maybe it's better to get screwed and just get out of it.' But I'm from New York."
At the end of 1994, after years of dealing with LT's own in-house legal team, Mr Lipsius and his lawyer, Patrick Allen, learned their legal opponents would change to Herbert Smith.
Mr Allen had estimated pounds 75,000 to cover pain and suffering and the loss of his clients ability to use his hands. Herbert Smith offered pounds 55,000.
But the bulk of Mr Lipsius's claim was for loss of earnings.A New York University graduate in music and recording studio techniques, he was due to take advantage of connections in the world of composing advertising jingles.
But nothing was offered for loss of earnings. At one stage LT claimed it was not going to pay for any more gloves or creams for his damaged hands. Then it tried to dispute whether he had ever had any musical talent. A team of 18 musicians were hired to judge his pre-fire work. It was all "Mickey Mouse" he said. The survey proclaimed he was " a bad guitar player". He was forced to send in tape-recordings of work after his hands had been damaged. "Then they panicked and concluded I could not have written the stuff. That I had lifted it all." The accusation hurt.
In April last year LT offered pounds 270,000. As the court date neared the offer jumped to pounds 415,00, then pounds 500,000, which was paid into court. Then earlier this month the offer was raised to pounds 600,000.
After the bitter legal journey, is there any other way it could have been done ? He said no. "It's all built into the way of doing big business.
"I'm stubborn, kind of proud, and had the stomach for it. Most people don't. That's the way it works. Maybe somebody should look at that."
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